Scuttlebutt around the watercoolers in the Swamp has House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) sweating it out in political Purgatory, hoping against hope his hand-picked successor can rally the 218 votes needed to ascend to the podium. Ryan has made his selection to succeed him well-known; Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). McCarthy, however, currently doesn’t have enough friends on the Hill to glide into power, keeping Ryan on the hot seat and threatening his legacy.
A Sticky Wicket
After securing the historic Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in late 2017, Ryan had achieved a career-long goal, and exiting stage right was the common sense next move in his storied mission. He accomplished what he had said he would do, a 25-year nose to the grindstone effort, and after banging the gavel after the vote count, he told reporters “This is one of the most important pieces of legislation that Congress has passed in decades to help the American worker and to help grow the American economy.”
The guy should’ve had a clean getaway, but alas, Ryan is still in front of the gaslights. And with several months yet to go, the next few acts could mar his otherwise stellar fiscal conservative performance.
His docket is loaded with publicly controversial issues; DACA, the failed farm bill, and simmering-ready-to-boil moderate Republicans attempting a coup in the Freedom Caucus. And given the wild e-ticket ride in the Swamp of late, Ryan may have to tighten his chin strap and hang on until January. It could get downright ugly on the hill.
Ryan has denied the rumors that he has no plans to vacate until the gavel bangs in 2019:
“Obviously I serve at the pleasure of the members. Those are the people who drafted me in this job in the first place. But I think we all agree, the best thing for us is to complete our agenda and not wedge into the middle of the completion of our agenda divisive leadership elections.”
But a whole slew of unnamed, and a few named, sources have come forward to espouse an altered tale — one that has overtones of an internal power struggle, with the White House pushing for a change in leadership to remove any thoughts of a lame duck legislative failure.
Mick Mulvaney, White House Budget Director, recently brought the discussion to public view when he had a tête-à-tête with McCarthy on the issue of Ryan hanging around until he manages to crown his chosen successor. Mulvaney brought up a few critical points for Ryan to consider in standing down, effective immediately, for the good of the order. The most attractive one is that it would force Democrats to officially vote for or against their addled leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA):
“Wouldn’t it be great to force a Democrat running in a tight race to have to put up or shut up about voting for Nancy Pelosi eight weeks before an election? That’s a really, really good vote for us to force if we can figure out how to do it.”
I think that’s a ticket all Republicans would buy.
Firmly in Ryan’s camp, Representative Chris Collins (R-NY) is wary of changing actors mid-play. He shared his angst with The Hill: “I couldn’t imagine the turmoil if somehow we tried to — on top of everything else — elect a new Speaker with 218 votes. It’s just improbable.”
And skulking around backstage, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) and the House Freedom Caucus are holding hostage any support of McCarthy until after midterms. And in Ryan’s mind, he must stay in power until he gets his man.
Did Republicans Choke on Success?
So here we have a Congress in complete and utter gridlock and a Republican Party that is mimicking the upheaval and chaos of the Democratic Party. How hard is it to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory? Just ask the yahoos who were handed the winning Lotto ticket only to rip it into pieces over petty differences. Ryan may be remembered in history books as the man who spent 25 years climbing the hill to ring the bell on tax reform, but his ineffectual production with an all-star cast may have the curtain falling on him in the end.